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Here’s how to stay safe from coronavirus when eating at a restaurant

Published May 26th, 2020 2:44PM EDT
Coronavirus tips
Image: Paul White/AP/Shutterstock

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  • Now that all 50 states have reopened their economies to one degree or another, here are some coronavirus tips to follow when you’re in a setting like a restaurant dining room.
  • At least 30 states have now allowed restaurants to reopen their dining rooms, generally maxed at a reduced capacity for now.
  • The behaviors you should follow there mirror the other coronavirus prevention measures people should already be doing, like washing your hands regularly.

Going out to eat again at a restaurant near my apartment, for the first time since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, wasn’t as weird as I thought it might be. But there was also an abundance of reminders pretty much everywhere you looked to make the experience, if not quite the surreal dystopia that the scariest stories would have you believe, at least still weird enough to not let you forget that we’re living in extraordinary times.

I chose a comfort food-style pub after ordering to-go meals more than once from it while the quarantine/shelter-in-place rules were in place and restaurants were still closed to diners inside. I did so after seeing how well the restaurant had changed its operation and procedures to keep everyone safe, which gave me enough mental assurance that I would likewise be okay here once the dining room re-opens. It sounds like a bit of a drawn-out thought experiment in lieu of the snap judgments we once made about where to go to grab a bite to eat, but such is life in the coronavirus age. And the byzantine new rules that restaurants have to follow in order to keep their businesses safe and coronavirus-free, a tough task to pull off, aren’t going away anytime soon.

Let’s also be honest, though. Plenty of you are ready to rush back out to restaurants now, heedless of the warnings to exercise caution, partly because we’re nothing if not slaves to our human nature. We’ve been cooped up for a few months, having to follow weird new rules that have turned the most quotidian aspects of normal life inside out. So, you’re going out to eat, one way or another, right?

In addition to all 50 states having started the process of “reopening” themselves, Eater reports that at least 30 states are now allowing diners to sit down to enjoy a meal inside dining rooms again.

Beyond the now-standard coronavirus-related behaviors like regularly washing your hands, not touching your face, and wearing a face mask when you can’t socially distance from other people, there are also a number of steps in addition to those that health experts say you can take to minimize your risk when you visit a restaurant again. Robyn Gershon, a clinical professor of epidemiology at New York University’s School of Global Public Health, recently told Good Housekeeping that those steps include the following:

  1. Keeping your hands clean before you ever touch your food. That can be done in a number of ways. Personally, I have a miniature bottle of hand sanitizer I bring with me, but my new go-to restaurant also has hand sanitizer stations installed liberally around the dining room, which I like. “Try to wipe down anything you’re touching or use hand sanitizer before touching those items,” Gershon says. “You want to minimize any chance of spreading germs from the restaurant onto your belongings or back into your home.”
  2. Sit outside, if you can. According to Gershon, the airflow in indoor spaces where lots of people are gathered offers more of a chance for the virus to spread than does the more diluted air outside.
  3. Ask for disposable items, if they’re not offered. The few restaurants I’ve been to since businesses started opening back up are now doing this, but restaurants need to be offering single-use, disposable menus, for example, as opposed to the plasticky kind that were passed back and forth and lots of people touched over the course of a day. Same with utensils. I’d also prefer the plastic kind that get thrown away after I finish, rather than silverware that may or may not be washed well and used again for the diner after you.

In the end, the restaurants that survive this, in my opinion, will be the ones that realize they have just as important of a job ahead of them involving an appeal to our feeling of security, and not just in actually looking out for our health. They can be following the rules, but if you feel like something’s off or if a business isn’t sufficiently prioritizing cleanliness and safety, then nothing else really matters.

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.